Archive for May, 2007

What happens in Vegas

Wednesday, May 30th, 2007

Through the magic of technology, I am posting this while I am on my way to…Las Vegas! I swear, I spend more time in Vegas than anyone I know who isn’t a compulsive gambler, and yet it is all for work. Serious work! Cross my heart and hope to die.

I’m going to an academic conference on risk. Okay, yes, there is a “Gaming Nite!” (which, rumor has it, devolved last year into a drunken conga line composed primarily of middle-aged men sporting tweed jackets with patches on the elbows) but the rest of it is as sober as Cotton Mather on a Sunday morning.
Or as sober as I am when I am packing house.

It has occurred to me that this situation has all the makings of a bad movie plot: “When commitment-phobic thirty-nine-year-old Ellen visits Las Vegas a mere twenty-three days before her wedding, little does she know what temptations she will face…and what hilarious hi-jinks will ensue! But as they say, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!”

At the end of the movie, our heroine—after narrowly extracting herself from potentially shameful shenanigans with the cast of the “Thunder from Down Under” male strip show, flirting with the idea of leaving academia to become a showgirl, and blowing the entirety of her fall semester stipend shooting craps at Caesar’s Palace—realizes, and fortunately not too late!, that domestic bliss really is everything it’s cracked up to be. Whereupon she returns to Boston, gets married to the man of her dreams, and lives happily ever after with a large collection of Le Creuset pots, fondue sets, and toasters.

Thereby affirming our unshakable belief in marriage, motherhood, hot dogs, apple pie, baseball, Chevrolet, and wedding registries.

Knitwise, even as you are reading this, I am working on a lovely little scarf:
Divine Laines du Nord Mulberry Silk in a periwinkle blue color that I find simply heavenly.

I have not—I repeat, have not—abandoned Minnie, in spite of her truculent and boorish behavior. I merely needed a portable project to take with me to Vegas.

The idea is that knitting will keep me out of trouble. It hasn’t worked in the past, but there’s a first time for everything.

More soon from the City of Sin…

Spin it out

Tuesday, May 29th, 2007

After looking at my new wheel sitting in the corner of my living room for several weeks, I became inspired to dust it off (literally, unfortunately–have I ever mentioned what a disaster of a housekeeper I am?) and finish the grey wool and silk that was included free (!) with the wheel.

wool and silk

I have two good-ish size hanks, and it is very purty, if I do say so myself.  Next step:  washing the yarn to set the twist and (I hope) promote the bloom.  Although I seldom have something in mind when I start spinning, I do think this would look nice knitted up as a lace scarf. 

grey wool and silk

As I contemplate it a little more, I realize that it’s also quite masculine in nature, so perhaps a simple, manly scarf would be nice as well.  Of course, who do I have now of the male persuasion to knit for?  Well, of course, there’s Harvey.  That would be a nice, motherly thing to do for one’s son, to knit him a scarf out of handspun, wouldn’t it?  And then, there’s always my dad, who certainly deserves a handknitted scarf out of handspun.

I got started right away on some more spinning.  I picked out this merino/silk top that I purchased in Jeff City in March.

wool and silk top

I put the smaller whorl on the flyer, and set out to spin just about the finest single I could.

wool and silk top on wheel

I do still want to ply this with the other colorway (see link above).  You see, I have a vision.  A fine, laceweight yarn with a subtle, rich depth of color, more subtle and more deep than either of the colorways on their own.  A yarn with the softness of merino and the shimmer of silk, knitted into a gorgeous showpiece of a shawl.

Can you see it too?

De minnie-mus

Monday, May 28th, 2007

You probably thought that with all the hurly-burly of the wedding and the move to the dream house that I had forgotten about Minnie. Confession: I did ignore her for a while. I had decided to do her sleeves from the top down, which was fine until I got to that motif that forms the bottom of the bell.

And then…whoa boy! Trouble. Long story short, Sean and I spent a good five hours puzzling over how to reverse the motif so that it could be knitted from the top down rather than the bottom up. Easier said than done.

We puzzled and swatched and puzzled and swatched. We cursed and swatched and puzzled some more. Cursed some more.

Finally we arrived at a reasonable facsimile:
If Sean hadn’t helped me out on this one, well… I had hit my wall for frustration well before we found the solution, but he persisted. So a big thank you goes to Sean!

Given that the first sleeve was an experiment, I was initially pretty happy with the results:
Although a couple of flaws convinced me to pull it out to the underarm and take another run at it. C’est la vie. I can’t bear to have the mismatching shoulder seams AND a semi-dud sleeve all in one disastrous sweater.

So staring down the barrel of frogging (and having been dragged through a frustrating problem-solving session), I put Minnie aside for a time while I pondered whether or not we could continue to be friends.

Now, however, I am working on the second sleeve:
My ultimate plan is to model the first sleeve on the second, which I feel will be more successful. Famous last words.

One thing has gone right with Minnie, though. Well, two. The beading and the recent acquisition of the perfect buttons:
How often do you get a match like that? Made in heaven.

I’m trying to love her, but I think it is going to take time to rebuild trust.

One final note regarding the upcoming nuptials…and you heard it here first, folks: if I never hear the phrase “your special day” again as long as I live, it will be too soon.


Saturday, May 26th, 2007

Harvey and I went to Krug Park in St. Joe today to have a picnic.

Krug Park

We took Hugo with us, who told me that he would really like to catch a duck.


He said that would make his day, if not his whole week.  But I had to tell him no, that these ducks are not for eating.


He didn’t really understand, and told me that it was very unfair of me to spoil his fun in that way.


I think he still loves me, though.

Rumpelstiltskin is a getting to be such a big boy.  Thirty-one out of thirty-nine repeats finished.

Rumpelstiltskin 5-25-07

I’m ashamed to report, though, that my attention wandered today, as it is so apt to do.  I started playing around with a couple of balls of Jaeger Celeste, a rayon/linen ribbon yarn. 

Jaeger Celeste 5-25-07 

I’m still trying to figure out ribbon yarns and what works best with them.  What I like about them is the almost meaty feel they have when knit up.  What I can’t seem to ever come to grips with, though, is their lack of stitch definition.  Intricate stitch patterns don’t work out very well.

I’m beginning to sense a glimmer of a design coming to me, after working with a couple of simple lace patterns and ripping them out, fiddling with some different decorative decrease methods and ripping those out, and trying out two different needle sizes.

But it’s no picnic.

Twenty-nine days to go

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007

My helpful gift registry people tell me that there are now only twenty-nine days until the “big event.” Thankfully, the most recent wedding gift that has been sent to us is a miniature cocktail shaker and four martini glasses.

Now there’s someone who’s really thinking! With twenty-nine days to go, I honestly can’t think of anything we need more than martinis. Not a blessed thing. Thank you! Thank you! A million times, thank you!

Seriously, though, I actually feel much better about this whole wedding business than I did last week or the week before. I know I had a lot to say about the major issues surrounding the over-commercialization of weddings in our wildly dysfunctional society and all the feminist issues they raise and all the rest of it. I’m not retracting any of that, but the thing that made me feel so much better about going to California and the wedding and the reception out there was…(wait for it…)…finding a great dog sitter for Shelley.

Yep. I’m telling you! Like night and day after I found this woman. I actually started looking forward to the wedding after I met with Jen and introduced her to my dog. No joke.

Shelley loved Jen and Jen said a number of admiring things about Shelley and then, magically, I could feel my anxiety lifting.

Just goes to show you that you might think you really have major issues with social injustice and rampant materialism and “the gaze” and female objectification and the prioritization of beauty over substance and the devaluation of women over thirty-five and so on and so forth, but it could turn out that you’re just worried about who’s going to take care of yer dog.
Lord, who wouldn’t be worried, prize dog like this?

Furthermore, I picked up my wedding dress at the Bridal Barn (with a vehicular assist from Nasser, whose socks are now finished, see below), and I saw that it was, in fact, good. Heartwarmingly, a couple of fellow Barn customers wandered by during the fitting and said, unprompted, “Wow, that’s a really beautiful dress on you!”

On the other hand, what are they going to say? “Wow, you look like Grendel’s mother in her Sunday best. Is there time to find another gown? Get some plastic surgery? Or maybe just cancel the wedding?”

While I was at the Barn, I also learned how to attach an eight-point bustle (you can think of the eight-point bustle as the hyperfeminine counterpart to the eight-point buck…or something like that) from Mercedes, alterations goddess extraordinaire. Cake! Complete cake. That is, as long as you haven’t had a couple of martinis (see above).
Mountain Colors Bearfoot, a lovely sock yarn with a touch of mohair, in color Deep Blue. A color that is very, very hard to see when you knit, but very, very lovely when the finished object is presented. I knit these on two circulars, U.S. Size 2.

Thanks to that Bridal Barn lesson, I am now prepared to manage effectively should I suddenly be catapulted backwards through time into the 19th century and find myself confronting eight-point bustles on a daily basis. Makes it all worthwhile, people. All worthwhile.

Because time travel happens nearly constantly.

Nasser in his role as foot model. Note the near-perfect fit of these socks. Why, it’s almost like they were…made for him!

And no, Incomparable Kate, you may not see the wedding gown and its eight-point bustle until the wedding. If it were up to me, I’d say yes, but you start dealing with a dress that big with a train that significant and those things just have minds of their own. They also get quite arrogant and prima donna-ish what with all this talk about “the most important dress you will ever wear” and “the perfect gown” and “the most you will ever spend on any single garment, sucker” and such. That’s what they hear all day long. Really goes to their heads. Long story short, the gown is refusing to leave its garment bag until June 21st.

At which point it will emerge and almost certainly demand a martini. Fortunately, I’ll be prepared.


Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007

I decided, while thinking about what to write about on the blog today, that it might be an instructional exercise to come up with seven random things about myself, even though it was Ellen who was originally tagged with the meme.  After all, we are in this blog together, are we not?

But first, a report on Rumpelstiltskin.

He is coming along very nicely.

Rumpelstiltskin 5-22-07

Growing steadily.  They just grow up so fast, don’t they?  (As an aside, when Harvey was a little bitty baby, I would take him out to the grocery store or some such place, and more than once a complete stranger would say to me, “Oh, don’t you wish they could stay that little forever?!”  “OH MY GOD!”  I wanted to scream.  “The horror!  The horror!”)

In a break from my usual pattern, I am holding steadfast to knitting on Rumpel.

Rumpelstiltskin 5-22-07 

I am determined to finish this shawl in time for the wedding.

1.  Harvey and I are now blue belt, brown tip in Tae Kwon Do.  We broke boards at our last testing.  It was surprisingly easy–I was told beforehand by more than one person:  “It only hurts if the board doesn’t break.”

2.  I own 200+ cookbooks and baking books.  This is a somewhat shameful admission which I trust you will all treat with due gentleness.

3.  I bought this skein of hemp yarn

hemp yarn 

last weekend at the Yarn Barn in Lawrence, KS.  I’m going to make a couple more dishcloths out of it.

4.  When I was a little girl, I collected frogs–frog figurines, frog bookends, frog stickers….  The last remnant of this charming obsession is a silver frog ring which my sister gave me years ago and which I have taken to wearing again.  I realize now why I haven’t worn it very much–the only finger it fits properly upon is the ring finger of my left hand.

5.  The oddest thing I have ever eaten is a smoked ant.  It was crunchy and really, really salty.  Sort of like a tiny little potato chip with tiny little legs.

6.  When I was in the eighth grade, I lost the county spelling bee on the word “ankh.”

7.  I memorize poetry, and when I’m by myself in my car (truck, actually) and don’t feel like listening to music, I recite said poetry.  I feel certain that this either reveals me as a completely pretentious egghead, or reveals that I am charmingly odd genius.

Here’s a sample:

The Snowflake Which Is Now and Hence Forever


Will it last? he says.

Is it a masterpiece?

Will generation after generation

Turn with reverence to the page?


Birdseye scholar of the frozen fish,

What would he make of the sole, clean, clear

Leap of the salmon that has disappeared?


To be, yes!–whether they like it or not!

But not to last when leap and water are forgotten,

A plank of standard pinkness in the dish.


They also live

Who swerve and vanish in the river.


–Archibald MacLeish

Honk if you love packing

Monday, May 21st, 2007

Well, well, well. If Laura didn’t tag me for the “Seven Random Things About You” meme. She has asked that I not “hate her” for doing this and I have promised only to hate her for a maximum of fifteen seconds. At which time the hate will revert to my former fondness and admiration for her and all will be forgiven.

In the meantime, I am facing the challenge of finding seven random things to tell you that I have not already revealed, being as I am rather free with random details about myself.

While I’m thinking, here’s the state of Nasser’s thank-you-for-driving-me-to-the-Bridal-Barn-in-the-rain-last-Friday socks:
Darn near finished! It’s hard to say who is more excited: me or Nasser.

And now, without further ado, the seven things, random or otherwise. These are in no way related to the Seven Pillows of Strength:

1. Even more than I imagined when we started this blog last June, I really enjoy blogging on a regular basis. So much so that I was actually somewhat surprised when Alex mentioned to me last night that he would prefer that I not post during the week of our wedding and (very brief) honeymoon.

I can’t imagine why he would feel this way, can you?

But you’ll get the full story when I get back. Don’t you worry.

2. For at least the past two years, I’ve been threatening to take up cross-stitch so that I could make my loyal and long-suffering psychologist/counselor/life coach a sampler that reads, “Home is where your mental health care professional is.”

3. Weight-lifting is practically a religious experience for me. I find it deeply meditative to do chest presses with a 25 pound barbell in each hand.

That said, I understand from my cursory examination of bridal magazines and women’s fitness magazines that other women are supposedly concerned about lifting relatively large amounts of weight because they are afraid of becoming “bulky.”

I do not fear the bulk. Every woman on the Bales side of my family, after which I take, becomes bulky in her upper body as she ages. The bulk is a given. The only open question is whether or not that bulk jiggles.

Big weights, no jiggle.

4. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I am a crazed drill sergeant when it comes to moving. This tendency is not ameliorated by the fact that I have moved five times in the last five years. On the contrary, if anything, I’ve become more fanatical and less tractable around this issue as I’ve perfected my moving skills.
Boxes I packed a week ago.

A couple of the boxes I packed yesterday. Move: June 15th.

Although I give lip-service to “understanding” and “appreciating” others’ lazy, disorganized, and immoral less structured way of moving house, the truth is that I believe that it is wrong and possibly dangerous.

5. Here is a photo of the boxes that Alex has packed:
Hey, wait just a minute, soldier! Is that wooden hand flipping me off? No, on second examination, I guess it isn’t.

It would be somewhat alarming to any self-respecting Packing Drill Sergeant to find the man that she was about to marry approaching a move in this fashion.

But then again, not quite as alarming as when Saul Bellow died and, as the literary maven of our household, I reported this to Alex, who replied, “Saul Bellow. Who’s he?”

We got through that. We’ll get through this.

6. I currently have forty-seven pairs of shoes.

7. I keep a black-and-white baby photo of myself hanging amongst the other family photos I have displayed in my office. The other pictures in the gallery include a baby photo of my grandmother, a photo of my grandmother holding my father when he was a baby, and a photo of the intern class of 1934 at Kansas City’s General Hospital in which my grandfather is in the front row, third man from the left.

My sister thinks it is in poor taste to display a baby photo of oneself. I disagree.

One more thing: Check this out. Make sure you listen to I Was Just Flipped Off By a Silver-Haired Old Lady with a “Honk if You Love Jesus” Sticker on the Bumper of Her Car. I heard this on the radio this weekend (while packing) and I wanted to share.

Back on Wednesday, when I’ll have some finished socks to show (Lord willing) and will be making a long-overdue return to Minnie…

The tyranny of the second home

Friday, May 18th, 2007

I was reading in the New York Times this morning about the terrible burden that is placed on affluent New Yorkers when they own a second home in “the country.” I’m putting “the country” in scare quotes because—and this is an observation borne of seven years experience of living in Manhattan—what New Yorkers, bless their sweet, naïve urban hearts, call “the country” is not what the rest of America thinks of as country.

They are talking about the Hamptons or scenic parts of the Hudson River Valley. We are talking about fields of soy beans, hog lots, grain silos, failed crops, and foreclosures.

I learned from the Times this morning that these people have to contend with terrible dilemmas: the question of whether or not to invite weekend guests (the guilt is simply overwhelming if one leaves one’s less affluent friends stuck in the city!), how to find a good contractor to build a cabana for the pool, how to find someone reliable to do the “spring clean-up” on the grounds when you will be in Paris for the spring, and so forth.

I have to admit I remain unmoved.

Perhaps I just wasn’t fully awake and could not appreciate the peculiar trials of the economic elite. I’m sure it will hit me full force around noon, when you’ll hear me say to myself, “Yes, you know, those people neither have children dying in a pointless war in Iraq, nor are they forced to decide between heating or eating, but it certainly is true that it’s getting harder and harder these days to find a servant who can polish the silver properly!”

Chez Balerstein, however, things are going fairly well, in spite of our ongoing struggles to manage our household servants.

I have continued to pack and Alex has continued not to pack, and we have received our first wedding gift:
If I’ve learned one thing from getting married twice, it’s that if you put something on your registry that is in the shape of a heart, people will jump on that like a galloping horse. That said, I love this pot! The people who sent it—although I have never met them—are now my new best friends.

I also made great progress on Nasser’s socks:
Which is a good thing, too, since he is lending me his car again this afternoon so that I can pick up my wedding gown.

The little bit of mohair in the Mountain Colors Bearfoot makes these socks absolutely scruptious. Nasser has been appropriately appreciative in the two sock “fittings” we’ve had thus far. Smart man.

Shelley, meanwhile, continues to beg discreetly during breakfast (lunch, and dinner):
Keep your eyes on the prize.

Have a great weekend everyone! Back with more Bridal Barn updates, I’m sure, next week…

Two or three things I know for sure

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

(With apologies to Dorothy Allison)

1.  Rumpelstiltskin is coming along very, very nicely.

Rumpelstiltskin 5-16-07 

The pattern repeats seem to go quite quickly, especially since, unlike Handsome, the stitch count on each row stays the same.  Amazing what a difference that makes–when you’re not increasing out the wazoo every other row.  (To say nothing of that ruffle.)  I am now up to sixteen repeats out of thirty-nine.

2.  I have strep throat.  (Just thought I’d throw that in there.)

3.  I purchased a basket at Tuesday Morning the other day, thinking to use it for a knitting basket.

knitting basket

Doesn’t that look nice and almost gift-basket-like?  Like I actually planned what to put in there instead of just toodling around my apartment picking up random knitting and spinning supplies and dropping them in?  I can only put it down to the innate loveliness of knitting and spinning supplies–certainly not any special skill or forethought on my part.

4.  (Yeah, I know I’m over my limit of three things now, but what the hell.)  I wore the Handsome Triangle yesterday while I was out and about (to the doctor’s office, where I was diagnosed with, well–see #2, above) and got several compliments on it.  It was just the thing for wearing while feeling under the weather:  warm, soft, cuddly, beautiful.

Handsome Triangle on chair

(I figure I need to get some enjoyment out of it before it becomes Mother’s.  Also, when you put that much work into something, you’d darn well better wear it with pride.)

5.  Lawyers call a divorce, a “dissolution.”  Isn’t that just the tidiest, most antiseptic way of putting it?  I just can’t seem to stop myself from dwelling on this word, with its relation to both “dissolute,” a word with which I never much wanted to be associated, and “dissolve.”  Somehow both seem sadly appropriate.

6.  Life goes on, no matter how much your throat hurts or how much you feel you might simply dissolve into a quivering puddle on the floor.

The dark heart of the stashing knitter

Tuesday, May 15th, 2007

Turns out that even if you are only going to move next door, you still have to pack. It seems at first like you don’t, but then you get to thinkin’. In your mind’s eye, you see yourself as the central figure in an absurdist tableau in which you are walking from your current house to your new house with a brass candlestick in one hand and a ball of yarn in the other.

Seventeen days later, you have a Richard Nixon bobblehead doll in one hand and your original copy of Frampton Comes Alive! in the other. A fistful of broken rubber bands in one hand and an accordion under the other arm. Excruciatingly, you are still carting these items from your old home to your new home.

No, there’s nothing for it but to pack.

I have to admit that I am a downright, stone Marine drill sergeant when it comes to moving. I find myself making announcements to Alex like, “Everything in this house must be sorted and all items that are clearly trash must be thrown away! All items that are of some value but are not being used at this time must be given to Goodwill! No unnecessary items will be moved next door!” (I draw the line at actually addressing him as “soldier,” but it has crossed my mind.)

As is well known, if “unnecessary items” are moved next door, a plague of locusts will be visited upon us and the Lord will smite us by killing all of our sheep and goats. There’s a lot at stake here, people!

Alex hasn’t packed one thing. If the past is any indicator, that situation will persist until 24 hours before the move at which point he will panic and start throwing his own things willy-nilly into boxes, many of which will never be sealed and some of which will contain poorly-packed breakable items that may not survive the trip from one house to the next.

Inevitably, some of these things will be “unnecessary items.” Naturally, this pains me (not to mention what it does to the goats), but I have learned not to become too emotionally involved in his method (if his approach is indeed to be dignified by that moniker) of moving. He has his ways and I have mine.

Anyway, this weekend I sorted through all my clothes (and, to be honest, some of Alex’s), the non-clothes items in two closets, and packed up all the decorative objects in the house. I also decided that this move was a good excuse to organize my stash.

I hasten to point out that I never intended to get rid of any yarn, however. Yarn is in a “protected category” and therefore never to be deemed unnecessary. Soldier.

Here I am in the midst of “Operation Stash and Awe”:
Well, hello there, cashmere!

A partial-stash shot:
This excludes yarn in opaque bags that is slated for particular projects, “core” stash yarn that I’ve had for twenty years+, and five balls of gorgeous periwinkle silk that I recently sneaked into the house and have not yet come to terms with having bought, even though I got it at a steep discount and there was really no way I could pass it up and…

Remarkably, as soon as I had taken all of my yarn out of its various natural habitats and placed the entire array of it on the bed (and at auxiliary locations around the bedroom), my first thought was, “You know, I really don’t have that much yarn.”

Right. The same way that the American South doesn’t have “that much” kudzu.

Oh, by the way, Marsha, sadly blogless, had a very fine idea in her comment on my sister’s last post: in the event that my sister cannot finish Rumpelstiltskin by June 21st, our mother could wear Icarus to the wedding. That is, if she is planning on wearing something that harmonizes with pink. Oh, wait! She was angling for the Handsome Triangle. She obviously has no problem with pink. (And I mean serious pink!) So…consider the offer made.

But I still think Sarah can make the deadline. I have faith.